We can’t tell you how many times someone has asked us how to brew cider. It’s a question that used to get on our nerves. You don’t “brew” cider. Unlike beer, you don’t need to heat anything up to extract sugar from your raw material. You make cider, adding yeast to the apple juice, whose sugars are fully fermentable. Because it’s fermented fruit juice, cider is considered a wine for tax purposes, and the production process shares much more with wine than it does with beer.
We don’t think people ask winemakers how they brew their cabernet sauvignons, so where is the disconnect?
After fielding this question a number of times we realized it stemmed in large part from the complicated way cider is marketed and sold. For many people, their first interaction with cider was with the big companies--Angry Orchard, Strongbow, Woodchuck. These are often sold as alternatives to beer, and with the introduction of “Apple Ales” (beer or malt liquor with "apple flavoring") it became all the more confusing for consumers.
According to a survey conducted by Angry Orchard, of those respondents who could name a cider brand (37% couldn’t) almost 7% named Mike’s Hard Lemonade (which is not a cider) and 6% named Redd’s Apple Ale (again, not a cider).
But when you start getting into cider, you see that there is an extremely wide range of styles and approaches that run the spectrum from “wine” to “beer.” There are $25 750ml bottles of ciders fermented for 6 months and then aged for another 6 using 100% estate-grown cider apples. There are ciders in 6-pack 12oz cans made with wine yeast and even others made with beer yeast. There are ciders fermented with bacteria, like lactobacillus, whose closest flavor cousins are sour fruit beers.
To us, the intrigue of cider is precisely this range of possibilities. Wine is wine, beer is beer, but cider can be whatever the cidermaker, the apples, and the yeast want it to be.
It also leaves a lot more agency with the consumer. Thirsting for a celebratory New Year’s bubbly with lower alcohol content? Pick up one of those $25 bottles with the cork and cage. Fancy a drink after work? Grab a can or a pint from the bar or fridge. (Yes, we will have cider to go available at the tasting room this spring.)
To answer the question in the blog’s title: cider is cider, but sometimes it’s produced/marketed/drunk like wine and sometimes it’s produced/marketed/drunk like beer.